Many small cities in the Columbia Basin were named after Native American people or their language. Learning the history of those who lived here before helps keep their important contributions and stories alive. There are cities all over the Columbia Basin in Walla Walla, Benton, and Franklin Counties named after different aspects of Native American culture.
Touchet has two different but similar possible derivations. Before present-day Touchet was founded, the Walla Walla people had a village that was nearby. This village was called Tuushi. Tuushi means “baking salmon on sticks over coals.” Another possible explanation for Touchet is from the Sahaptin term “tu-se.” This translates to mean “roasting.” Both Tuushi and tu-se linguistic references within a Nez Perce legend about a coyote who roasted salmon on the Touchet River after breaking into a damn that the seven swallow sisters at Celilo guarded.
The Columbia River joins many small rivers on its course across the Northwestern United States. When Lewis and Clark traveled the Columbia River through what is now Washington, they came across a small river that the local Native Americans called “Wallah Wallah.” This name translates to mean “many waters.” Lewis and Clark began to call the Indigenous tribe by the same name, and over time a fur-trading post and settlement were built, all with the Walla Walla namesake. It wasn’t until 1856 that the U.S. Calvary built a new Fort Walla Walla in the city’s current location. It was initially named Steptoeville after the officer in charge. However, after he lost a battle with the area’s Native Americans, the city was changed to Walla Walla on November 7, 1959.
Wallula is a small city that can be found by where the Walla Walla river runs into the Columbia River. Wallula is a variation of “Walla Walla,” which means “many waters.”
Originally named “Hardersburg,” Kahlotus was organized by German Immigrants in the late 1800s. The exact derivation of the word “Kahlotus” is unclear. One possibility is that it’s a Native American word meaning “hole in the ground.” Other interpretations include: “coyote water,” “stinking water,” or “bad water.” These interpretations are considered due to the high alkaline water in a nearby lake. Another possible namesake was a Palouse tribal chief who signed the Yakima Treaty of 1855. His name has been seen with various spellings, including “Kahlotus.” The Yakima Treaty of 1855 was signed by 14 bands and tribes, ceding 11.5 million acres of land to the United States.
Kiona is an unincorporated area located near Benton City. This term means “brown hills” and possibly originates from the Sahaptin language spoken by the Yakima people.
When Lewis and Clark traveled the Columbia River, they met the Walla Walla tribe. The Native American chief in this tribe was named Yellepit. He welcomed the expedition and has retained the reputation of being open and inviting towards the foreigners. This city was named Yellepit in honor of this chief.
Many of the town names in the Columbia Basin reflect the many different Indigenous nations which originally inhabited the state. To learn more about the original and current caretakers of the region, refer to the website of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.